Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: The Authenticity of the Zohar

Rabbi Dovid Sears, author of many books on Chassidic thought including The Path of the Baal Shem Tov and the newly-released Shir Na'im/Song of Delight, provided the material for the posting below. It is excerpted from an e-mail interchange between himself and a person studying Breslover Chassidus.


Over the last year, I have been coming closer to Breslover Chassidus, baruch Hashem. I learn different Sifrei Breslov, including Likkutei Moharan. Certain of Rebbe Nachman's writings refer to the Zohar or are based on the Zohar in part. I however have serious doubts whether the Zohar is authentic, i.e., written by Reb Shimon Bar Yochai and his school, versus written by Rabbi Moses de Leon of Granada. I still believe that even if the Zohar is not authentic, there is much in Rabbi Nachman's works that stand independent of the Zohar, and therefore that people such as myself can still justifiably follow Reb Nachman's ways. Do you have any thoughts on this?


Rabbi Nachman (Sichos ha-Ran 278) explains the anachronisms in the Zohar by saying that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai continued to teach his school of talmidim even after his death. (So did the ARI zal continue to teach his talmid, Rav Chaim Vital, in his dreams for more than twenty years. So did the spirit-teacher of the Beis Yosef teach him from the "next world." There are other examples of this phenomenon, as well.)

I seem to remember that the Komarno Rebbe took a similar position on the Zohar as Rabbi Nachman. Other tzaddikim believed that the core of the Zoharic books comes from the immediate circle of Rabbi Shimon, while later accretions were eventually added to the manuscript. Still others speculated that Rabbi Moshe De Leon contacted the soul of Rabbi Shimon through a Divine Name and thus received the teachings.

However, whatever the explanation, our greatest tzaddikim and sages accepted the Zohar despite these questions, including the RaMBaN, Rabbi Yitzchok min-Acco (see what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says about the latter's investigation of the Zohar's authenticity in "Meditation and the Kabbalah"), Rabbi Moshe Zaccuto, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, the Beis Yosef, RAMA, Baal Shem Tov, Maggid of Mezeritch, RaMCHaL, Chasam Sofer, Baal ha-Tanya, Vilna Gaon, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Chayei Adam, Magen Avraham, Be'er Heitiv, Malbim, RaSHaSH, CHIDA, Ben Ish Chai, Chofetz Chaim, Aruch ha-Shulchan, Baal ha-Sulam, Rav Kook, Rav Sonnenfeld, the Darkei Teshuvah, Imrei Yosef, Reb Ahreleh Roth, Baba Sali -- the list goes on and on. Personally, I defer to these sages, and assume that they are better qualified than I am to evaluate this.

Rabbi Nachman's writings are suffused with Zoharic ideas and teachings, so much so that Reb Noson added the Rebbe's teaching about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ("Lechu chazu") prior to the first lesson in Likkutei Moharan. According to Breslover oral tradition, when he was on his way to Uman the Rebbe remarked, "Our entire mission is to be mamshikh kedushas Reb Shimon -- to draw into the world the holiness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai" (see Rabbi Noson of Tiveria's Netziv Tzaddik). So I can't imagine how you could subtract the Zohar from the derech and hashkofah of Breslev.

HOWEVER... even if you cannot accept the Zohar as the work of Rabbi Shimon and his school, I don't see why you have to negate its truth. Whoever wrote it must have been a very awesome tzaddik for his work to change the face of Yiddishkeit and revolutionize the entire kabbalistic tradition!


At January 18, 2006 at 7:54:00 AM EST, Blogger yaak said...

Great post. Here's more

At January 18, 2006 at 8:29:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After seeing Rav Dovid's formidable (and partial) list of tzaddikim who faithfully and unquestionably accept(ed) the Zohar as divrei Elokim chaim, how could one possibly have doubts? The Zohar is so wonderful in cleansing the soul, that the Yetzer works overtime to bring doubt in one's heart, chas v'sholom. "Amalek" and "safek (doubt)" both equal 240 in gematria. We must all work on our tmimus, pshitus, and emunas chachomim, and learn Zohar every day. Warmest regards and blessings.

At January 18, 2006 at 8:33:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yaak: Thanks for the link!

Rabbi Brody: Thank you for your kind words! If one learns Chassidus (i.e. Degel Machaneh Ephraim and Likutey Moharan) every day does this qualify as learning Zohar every day?

At January 18, 2006 at 10:33:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that R' Shimon is given quite a bit of "air time" in Brelsev; I was womdering, does anyone know if the RASHBI is as major a figure among any other groups?

I realize that the RASHB"I is universally recognized as one of the greatest Tzaddikim ever, and that is not a matter of dispute - every frum group agrees and quotes the Zohar. What I am wondering is, who else speaks of him as often and as significantly as they do in Breslev?

At January 18, 2006 at 1:16:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous - all the Israeli Chassidim, as well as all the Sephardim and the "Talmidei Gr"a" Lithuanians learn Zohar on a regular basis; that's why you see half a million people at Miron every Lag B'Omer.
To SJ - The Melitzer Rebbe says no; a small shtickel of Zohar - even simply said in girsa - serves to purify the soul and is wonderful for kedusha and yiras shamayim.

At January 18, 2006 at 3:00:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zatzal, a prominent Breslov teacher who passed away 25 years ago, told his talmidim to try to study at least one page of Zohar a day.

For those who don't know Aramaic, there are now several good Hebrew translations: Matok mi-Dvash by the late Rabbi Daniel Frisch of the Toldos Aharon community (I think); the Sulam by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag; Yedid Nefesh by Rabbi Yechiel Bar-Lev; and Yerid HaSefer has published a simple straightforward translation without commentary.

In English, Rabbi Moshe Miller, a Lubavitcher Chassid, is currently working on a collection of excerpts from the Zohar, one volume of which has been published so far. And a secular scholar, Dr. Daniel Matt, has translated about half of the Zohar; however, as a matter of principle I cannot endorse any translation that comes from a non-frum source. Dr. Matt seems to be a gifted person with a feeling for the material, but he roundly denies the emunas ve-de'os on which the Zohar is built. Isaiah Tishbi's anthology of Zoharic teachings is probably even worse. I haven't heard any "rave reviews" of the old Soncino translation, either.

I am partial to both the Frisch and Bar-Lev translations, which also include digests of some of the major commentaries such as Ohr Yakar of the Ramak and Ohr HaChama of Rav Avraham Azulai, among others.

At January 18, 2006 at 9:25:00 PM EST, Blogger Judah HaKohain said...

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At January 19, 2006 at 5:14:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So currently no good English translation is in print?

At July 20, 2006 at 9:02:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nop question that on the surface there seems to be anachronisms, and references that can seemingly only be understood in the context of the 13 th century. The point to remember as has been noted is that nearly all of gedolei yisrael have accepted the Zohar and surely they have seen all of these issues.

However one wants to deal with them, in the end we must hae emunat chachamim that the Zohar is a holy work.

Regarding Rabbi Nachman, he seems inextricably linked to Rashbi. He comments that Rashbi is spelled out from the anocronym Ir Vekadadish Min Shemaya Nachit and that Rabbi Shimon was chosen to be the conduit for this wisdom, but now there is a Nachal Noveah mekor Chochmah... I.E Nachman parelling himself to Rashbi.

Curiously Nachman ben Feiga and Shimon Bar Yochai have the same numerical value . The rule is when two words in hebrew have the same numerical value they have the same power like Masiach and Nachash. The Masiach has the power to undo the damage wrought by the Nachash.
As we can see from above one should never take the words of the sages lightly,. If rabbi nachman believed how can we not?

At July 28, 2006 at 9:52:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At July 31, 2006 at 12:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question: How do we know that the RaMBaN actualy accepted the Zohar for sure ?

At July 31, 2006 at 3:09:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard that the Ramban actually quotes the Zohar, although not by name, since it was a "secret" manuscript circulated privately at that time. Rav Yitchak of Acco (who some say was a talmid of the Ramban while in his late teens, during the Ramban's final years in Eretz Yisrael) works with this assumption in his kabbalistic commentary "Me'iras Einayim" on the Ramban's Commentary on the Torah. Rav Yitzchak, who met with Rabbi Moshe de Leon in Spain, also accepted the authenticity of the Zohar in his "Sefer HaYamim."

At August 30, 2006 at 5:51:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If hypothetically Shimon Bar Yochai didn't author the Zohar (by any means), if he could be resurrected and questioned about it, he would surely only say that Moshe De Leon was a greater Zaddik than he. So it's a moot point.

At March 5, 2008 at 9:57:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I reviewed evidence that supports the authenticity of the Zohar in this post:

At June 12, 2008 at 2:06:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just started learning Dr. Daniel Matt's English translation of the Zohar and must say that I am astounded by its scholarship and literary excellence (not to mention the superb graphic design of the series).

It is hard to understand how such a gifted translator with an apparently sincere and deep feeling for this lofty mystical text could take such an equivocal view of Judaism. But the (at least) equally gifted R' Abraham J. Heschel taught at JTS and did some fast footwork when it came to the bible critics, too -- so "there's nothing new under the sun." But it really is too bad...

At January 6, 2014 at 6:56:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe you should all read this and THEN make your decision...


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